Zahra Hussaini is an Afghani human rights and cultural activist who works primarily through the arts and theater to promote human rights in Afghanistan, especially those of women. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Archaeology from Bamyan University. She has worked with several local NGOs and media outlets to promote dialogue on women’s issues and freedom of expression. She is a co-founder of a cycling team that trains and promotes the right of girls to cycle in Afghanistan. She is the founder of the annual event “A Night with Buddha.”
Hussaini began working on women’s issues as an assistant to the office of Habiba Sarabi, Governor of Bamyan and Afghanistan's first women governor, while studying for her bachelor's degree. In 2012, she began working for Paiwand Radio Station in Bamyan to produce social and cultural programs focused on women’s issues and freedom of expression. She has worked with other local media and NGOs including the Afghanistan Human Rights and Democracy Organization (AHRDO), the Civil Society Office in the Central Zone of Bamyan, and the Bamyan Tourism Association. She was part of the group that established the Afghanistan Center for Memory and Dialogue (ACMD), the country’s first war victim’s museum and archive.
Hussaini’s activism is closely tied to her areas of cultural work. Between 2013 and 2016, she co-founded and led a local cycling team named “Salsal and Shahmama” with the goal to teach and promote the right of girls to cycle. In 2014, she organized a cycling race with the cooperation of socio-cultural organizations of Bamyan province which was the first co-ed race in the country’s history. The race was conducted annually until the Taliban takeover of the country in 2021. Hussaini and fellow women activists were nominated to the Nobel Peace Prize by members of the Italian Parliament for their activities to promote women’s rights through cycling. Their stories were included in the book Revolution: How Women Changed the World on Two Wheels by Hannah Ross.
Since 2013, Hussaini has been a leader of the Yadawaran Group which coordinates an annual event called “A Night with Buddha'' to commemorate the destruction of the Bamyan Buddhas by the Taliban regime in 2001. In 2022, it was hosted by the Theater Kulturhuset, one of ICORN’s key partner organizations in Stockholm, and Hussaini is already working to organize future iterations in her new host city.
Hussaini received strong backlash from local people, especially mullahs, when traveling in Afghanistan to conduct her human rights activities and projects advocating for women’s rights. Hussaini and other women were also repeatedly harassed for riding bicycles in public spaces. Even families of members of the cycling team initially did not wish for them to participate in competitions. They eventually changed their minds and came to encourage their daughters, wives and sisters to ride bicycles after Hussaini and a colleague, Zakia Mohammadi, participated in an outdoor competition in Kabul.
In October 2021, Hussaini was welcomed as an ICORN resident hosted by the Swedish city of Stockholm. To learn more about her work, you can follow her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.